Eh, What’s App, Doc?

Recently I viewed a “2011 mhealth Trends” webinar produced by mobihealthnews and sponsored by Diversinet as a preview of HIMSS 2011.

For those interested in the presentation, you can find the link to the slide deck here:  v3_webinar_csp_2_10_2011final.

I found it quite interesting and am now pretty bummed I won’t be going to HIMSS. Since I can’t attend HIMSS, I figured I’d add my two cents to some of the things I heard in the seminar and, of course, share my own thoughts as to how one can begin evaluating the different mhealth vendors and solutions out there.

But first, a bit about mhealth. 

mhealth stands for mobile health and it generally covers any sort of mobile devices used by clinicians and other end users in a healthcare environment.  The devices include smart phones with health apps, tablets, ipads and other mobile health related devices.

What struck me in the presentation is the rate in which the mhealth market has taken off and how quickly it is expected to grow. It is predicted that by 2014, 100% of doctors will be working on a mobile device with apps. That’s not 40% or 80% or even 99.9%.  That’s 100%. 

That’s also moving from the bottom of the S-Curve (early adopter area) to the middle/high-end (point of product/service maturity and market saturation) in a hurry.

(There’s also the HIPAA/PHI risk if the mhealth device is stolen, but I digress).

Healthcare organizations are running to catch up.  The heads of health systems know they need to be doing something, but there are a variety of vendors out there and a bunch of new products.  Who/what does one choose?

This challenge falls upon anyone who regularly needs to keep up with technology. And I do not envy those who have to make the decision. With the speed of mhealth adoption, it’s almost like sticking your hand into a bag and grabbing the first thing your hand touches.  Don’t forget that budgets are already tight and one can’t afford a “wrong” solution.

So how do you assure you’re getting the right solution?

There is a term called dominant design and it refers to a device or technology that leaves all others behind and becomes the market standard. 

When Betamax and VHS were vying for market share, the battle waged and, when the dust cleared, VHS won.  With TVs, there is still a choice between LED, Plasma, and LCD.  Blu Ray disks and players seem to be upending the standard DVD though DVDs are still hanging tough. And streaming movies may upend both DVDs and Blu Ray.

So what is going to be the dominant design for mHealth? 

Short answer is this – it’s way too early to tell.  (If you were expecting an actual answer here – wow, you hold me in some pretty high regard!)

As you’ve heard me say before, I’m no expert. But there are a few key points that I’d be watching to see who or what is poised to be the dominant design in mhealth:

1) Functionality – what does it do and how well does it do it?  If it’s an app that shows a zippo lighter with a flame that you can hold up at a concert in lieu of an actual lighter, well…enjoy the concert while your competition leaves you in the dust.  If the app tells a patient that their blood pressure is dropping, but doesn’t tie to some sort of alarm or 24-hr monitoring or emergency personnel, does it do anyone any good?

I suppose knowing what it is your organization hopes to accomplish helps mitigate any wasteful and impulse purchasing here.  Applying meaningful use standards probably wouldn’t hurt either. 

2) Ease of use – does it require a three-week seminar on how to turn it on?  If yes, then look elsewhere. You need something that can be adopted quickly by the health professionals.  And keep in mind the audience may not be folks in their 20s who are already tech-savvy. 

In fact, with doctors already spending less time with each patient and 32 million more insured coming on board, it’s likely that nurses and other healthcare professionals will be the primary users of the new mhealth technologies.  The folks at mobihealthnews stated that the nurse is going to be the focus of mhealth in the future and I agree.

3) Interoperability – how well does it play with other in-house systems?  If you want the new technology to work in your current IT environment, make sure the new solution plays well with other operating systems.  Make sure that any new solution won’t cost you more than the new solution itself meaning if you have to upgrade every other bit of hardware and software that you own, that particular mhealth solution may not be worth the hassle.

4) Does it bring a real solution to an actual problem?  In other words, does it help streamline your business and make it better?  In the case of health systems, better should ultimately mean better patient outcomes.  Does your mhealth solution result in healthier patients? 

Because in the end, that’s what this is all about – utilizing technology to advance solutions resulting in better health.

To take a quote from the presentation:  “We are only as good as the information we have delivered at the point of decision” – David Blumenthal. 

Hear, hear.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for me to see if my flip phone can cure the common cold.  Or maybe I’ll just use it to make my next doctor’s appointment.  Hey, we all have to start somewhere, right?

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